Most of us have heard the phrase where there’s a Will, there’s a relative but what happens when that relative turns out to be one you didn’t even know, or want to know, existed?
The story of Jimmy Saville’s long-lost love child contesting his Will in which his £7.8 million estate was left mostly to charity, hit the headlines this week. Just last month Robin Gibb’s widow expressed concern that the mother of his love child would contest Robin’s Will on behalf of her daughter, who was fathered outside of the marriage. Other famous people who have fathered children – hidden or otherwise – in similar circumstances include Arnold Schwarzeneger, Eric Clapton and Michael Lohan. So what is the likelihood of these offspring contesting Dad’s will in the future?
Lesley Davis, Partner and Head of the Private Client team at law firm, SGH Martineau LLP, comments:
“Jimmy Saville isn’t the first celebrity whose Will has been contested and he won’t be the last. Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants Act) 1975, any child can contest a parent’s Will – and if there’s a lot of money involved, it often provesmore of an incentive to stake a claim. We see time and again children, who the ‘family’ may have had no idea about, come forward once their father dies, either to get their hands on what they feel is rightfully theirs or to make the statement that they too were a son or daughter with rights. Whilst I sympathise with these children who were denied a relationship with their parent for whatever reason, it can cause tremendous pain for everyone else. Anger, hurt and feelings of betrayal are often simply too much to bear when the family is grieving and it is no surprise that people feel frightened and threatened.
“The likelihood is that secret children of celebrities – and non celebrities as well – will often come forward to contest a Will. Firstly, because the law says that they can, but also to prove to the world, and to themselves, who they really are. While this may not have been possible during their parent’s life, those barriers which prevented them revealing their identity may lift at the time of death. Once a Will is contested, the next step often involves proving paternity and a protracted, painful and costly court case often follows. This is why most families end up settling out of court to avoid diminishing the estate.
“The floods of comments I’ve read about Jimmy Saville’s story range from people saying his alleged ‘gold-digging’ daughter should respect his wishes to leave the money to charity, to the statement that as he didn’t pay her anything in life, he ought rightly to do so in death. It’s such a highly emotive, confrontational issue; it simply makes more sense – and perhaps more courage – to deal with it before you die.
“Perhaps the individual should be careful enough to make sure this situation doesn’t arise in the first place; honest enough to admit to the rest of the family that a child has been fathered outside of marriage; or empathetic enough to consider how much heartache is going to be left behind – and do something about it. It is a decision that can only be made by the person who finds themselves in this situation.
“You can take precautionary steps to deal with situations like these – if of course, you know about them. Speak to an advisor who will be able to make sure your Will is robust enough to deal with any fallout. Or consider setting up trusts or provisions for all of your children – not just the ones fathered in the marriage – to help reduce the chances of a child contesting your final Will. Be assured, if you don’t make preparations and you have the kind of money that people feel is worth fighting for, then they most probably will.”